One example can be seen in larger bodies where both teaching and lay elders once governed the church; they’re called “ruling” elders. Today, some churches reduce the role of ruling elders to merely shepherding and have established a smaller group of men, including possibly non-ordained staff members, to govern and exercise authority over the church. One of these unbiblical innovations, according to some elders, is called a “Governance Commission.”
The term “deep state” is ubiquitous in today’s parlance and used by many to signify political control and power in the United States. While driving my car just a while ago listening to the program, Issues, Etc., on the Lutheran Missouri Synod radio station KFUO, reference to the “deep state” occurred several times. It was explained as the bureaucratic control and secret manipulation of government policy behind the scenes by certain influential members of government agencies. When I finally heard a clear definition of what it is, I couldn’t help wondering if something similar is taking place in some churches and denominations throughout Christendom? In other words, is there a “deep church” in the body of Christ?
Many would probably recognize or perceive its existence especially in the hierarchal churches or denominations. But what about Protestant, Evangelical, or Reformed Faith churches? The more I thought about it, the more I recognized its increasing presence, even in Reformed Faith churches. However, it’s important to first attempt to recognize the source, that is, is it biblical or something else? The early Church led by the apostles did not represent bureaucracy or hierarchy as so many churches do today. The apostles did not represent highly educated men who were paid based on their levels of education or their degrees attained. Some of the early leaders continued to support themselves by their trades. Others were modestly supported by other believers, as they traveled evangelizing wherever they went. Requests for donations appeared to focus not on support for leaders or an institution, but for the poor and persecuted believers.
The Western Church—whether hierarchal, Evangelical, or Reformed—today does not closely resemble that early church. In many respects, today’s churches, denominations, and branches are a far cry from the early Church. In fact, most forms seem to be distanced from the biblical image and norms given to us. With the increasing bureaucracies in most church bodies, is it possible that the world’s ways and means have invaded Christ’s Bride, surreptitiously?
Unfortunately, as a Reformed Faith Christian, I admit I can’t ignore that something close to the “deep state” in politics is evident in Reformed Faith churches. I am reluctant to admit this, but truth requires that we acknowledge facts, history, and reality. Below are just a few indications that some Reformed Faith churches have acquiesced and embraced the world in polity and practices.
One example can be seen in larger bodies where both teaching and lay elders once governed the church; they’re called “ruling” elders. Today, some churches reduce the role of ruling elders to merely shepherding and have established a smaller group of men, including possibly non-ordained staff members, to govern and exercise authority over the church. One of these unbiblical innovations, according to some elders, is called a “Governance Commission.” Placing so much power over a particular church in the hands of a few select individuals is always questionable and risky. Smaller groups can become elitist and political, exercising unchecked power and possibly abuse or manipulate their authority that would not happen with the larger group of ruling elders or overseers.
As organizations receiving charitable and voluntary contributions, year-end in-depth financial statements of income and expenditures were once provided to all members. This transparency included staff salaries, additional perks, and individual expenditures or overhead expenses that were easily understood. Some churches no longer provide such detailed statements to their memberships. Today, financial transparency is essentially absent to the congregation. Of all institutions and organizations, Christian churches and organizations should be the most transparent.
In bygone days, pastors were paid for the work they did for the church–as most pastors carried the same burdens and duties regardless of level of education. Today in many churches, pastoral salaries relate to level of education and degrees received. Pastors with more degrees are paid more than pastors with a seminary only degree. In other words, remuneration appears to be based on what has been received rather than what is given, and many pastors’ seminary expenses were either supported or paid for by their churches. It must be recognized some are simply more privileged than others. Even in the world, remuneration based on work performed, rather than privilege received, is more just and fair.
Churches previously relied heavily on voluntarism to perform many duties in the church, as opposed to a large paid staff. Many of our contemporary Evangelical churches have large paid staffs and even pay people for services that were once volunteered freely as service unto God. Both natural and spiritual gifts voluntarily bolstered churches ministries; however, today many of those services are monetarily remunerated. Paying staff for work that could be voluntarily performed by the laity consumes limited funds that could be directed to proclamation of the Gospel or needed charity.
It’s doubtful early Christian pastors or priests received housing allowances that were tax-exempt. Today, pastors expect to receive salaries plus housing allowances. This practice appears based upon indirect government assistance. Allegedly, one pastor requested a reduction in salary with an equivalent raise in housing allowance in order to pay less taxes. This practice appears to be manipulative.
In the past, congregations nominated candidates for office in Reformed Faith churches. This too appears to be diminishing, where committees of a few elites are authorized to select candidates for church office. This “central planning” or “deep state” model creates situations whereby candidates can be selected who are more controllable, rather than based upon their qualifications, character and experience to direct activities on behalf of the church. In some instances, the pastor has final authority to approve or disapprove candidates, without giving explanation to the ordained lay overseers. Selecting officers or committee members without congregational responsibility gives inordinate power to the staff, and over time, and will lead to diminished participation of the congregants in the life of the church.
The above discussion shows, unfortunately, that the world and worldly practices as—opposed to biblical practices and principles—have entered the Church, and there appears to be a “deep church” as well as a “deep state.” Are we willing to acknowledge and recognize how much the world has been allowed into the Church? Are we even willing to address the issues biblically? In the Reformed Faith, the laity once had the responsibility for oversight, which appears to be decreasing in many churches.
Isn’t it time for both leadership and laity to take control of their churches and denominations to ensure genuine transparency, doctrinal integrity, and biblical practices and principles? God’s Word and Church History demand it. “Deep church,” as “deep state,” is unhealthy and merits addressing.
This is written by a former missionary. Missionaries in general make great sacrifices to serve Christ, to proclaim the Gospel, and to disciple others out of great love for the Lord. Remuneration is generally a pittance of what could be earned in other fields. This writer has also served her church in many areas using both natural and spiritual gifts with no expectation of remuneration. Today, she writes this monograph seeking no remuneration because serving God is a joy and a privilege.
Helen Louise Herndon is a member of Central Presbyterian Church (EPC) in St. Louis, Missouri. She is freelance writer and served as a missionary to the Arab/Muslim world in France and North Africa; this article originally appeared in October 1991 in her church newsletter.